Monday, November 18, 2013

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Nov. 16, 2013, at the Met

I've often protested I'm a bel canto bear in a verismo world, and I will say that I didn't come to the November 16 performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten, by Herr R. Strauss, knowing what I was getting into. Not knowing the opera beforehand, I can say two things with great conviction:  it's long and it's loud. And I can also say without qualification that I heard some glorious singing.

Emper, Empress, Red Falcon
Photo:  Metropolitan Opera
Normally at this point I would provide a brief plot summary. "Ghostly ship's captain comes ashore once every seven years searching for true love, and one gathers that it never ends well." or "Nerd boy falls for popular girl, who only realizes she cares for him when he feigns indifference. Junior high school never really ends." (Both of these are actual quotes from my own reviews--Dutchman and Elixir.) Die Frau ohne Schatten defies such pithy brevity, but I'll try: "Goddess/Empress needs a baby in three days, but can't have one. Her evil sidekick recommends bribing a mortal to give the Empress her own shadow (fertility), but in the end everyone comes to their senses and all ends well. Except for the evil sidekick." There is much missing in that summation. It's very difficult to discuss this opera without getting into the symbolism! No surprise, then, that Andrew Porter's article in the program says, "That Hofmannsthal [genius librettist of Frau, as well as Der Rosenkavalier and Ariadne auf Naxos] intended Die Frau ohne Schatten to be the great German opera of the 20th century--encompassing heroic decisions in extreme plights, larger than life characters and common people, actions both naturalistic and enchanted--is clear. He would draw on all the resources of the lyric theatre through the ages, and do so with aristocratic deftness and grace."
Meagan Miller, soprano
Photo ©Arielle Doneson Corrigan

Now please indulge me by listening to my raves about the singing. Beautiful American soprano Meagan Miller made her Metropolitan Opera debut with this performance of the Empress, and it was a success. Her singing was huge, beautiful and very free. Clearly she had a great understanding of the role. Her impressive list of accomplishments to date include leading roles (many of them Strauss) at the Deutsche Opera Berlin, Wiener Stadtsoper, Bayerische Stadtsoper, Hamburg, Monte Carlo, Washington National Opera, etc. I look forward to hearing many other great performances from this woman. (Here is a link to a video excerpt of her Ariadne.)

American Christine Goerke is no stranger to Metropolitan Opera audiences, having made her debut in 1995. As the Dyer's Wife (who has no name of her own), she also sang beautifully, with a huge and impassioned sound that was subtle where needed. In personality her Dyer's Wife was the equal of the bold Nurse (the Empress's evil sidekick), and even from the Family Circle, we could see her torment as she realized her current situation was far better than she'd thought, and far better than she might have gotten were she to actually trade her shadow for worldly goods.

Johan Reuter, as Barak the Dyer, was a marvel. Glorious sound and a wonderfully strong but sensitive portrayal of Barak, visible even from the Family Circle. His list of accomplishments ranges from Guglielmo to Wotan to Nick Shadow at some of Europe's great houses, and this is no surprise. I won't stoop so low as to call him a Great Dane (particularly considering my unfortunate culinary experience recently at a pub of that name in Madison), but he's been around. He's been on the roster at the Met since 2012.

Torsten Kerl, tenor
Photo © Bettina Stöß
The fourth member of the quartet of leads is the Emperor, sung with great skill and intelligence by hunky German tenor Torsten Kerl. This role is brief but demanding, and Mr. Kerl was equal to the great vocal demands. Listening to his clips on YouTube one hears the very same thing one heard Saturday night--a huge, free sound that will ride over a Wagnerian orchestra. A sound that is pleasing to hear, not just big and metallic. A genuinely large voice, not one that is manufactured. And check out his pic--look at those eyes! **swoon**

This 2001 Metropolitan Opera production is by Herbert Wernicke, and is visually stunning. Mr. Tommasini of The New York Times wrote, "The bold, inventive production, for which Wernicke also designed the sets, costumes and lighting, is one of the great achievements of Joseph Volpe’s tenure as the Met’s general manager, and it is good to have it back." All I can say is I was glad to have it as my introduction to this amazing opera. Rather than desperate to return to the order and delicacy or Donizetti and Bellini, I left wishing I knew this score better.

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